This was originally posted on Alex Bledsoe's blog as part of The Paper Magician blog tour.
There are millions of places a writer can go to get an idea: museums, national parks, Wikipedia, even other writers’ books. The “what ifs” and crazy combinations of stuff in this world are endless. (Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon, for example, came from shoving Pokemon and a lost Roman legion into the same story.) Ultimately, the question of, “Where do you get your ideas?”, is relatively moot, because ideas are everywhere. Though, alternatively, I’ve recently discovered that sometimes the best place to get an idea is inside my own head.
The human brain processes thousands of stimulants and chunks of information daily. All of these—news articles, your strange new neighbor, that weird pear tree that smells like a corpse*, the story of your best friend’s cousin’s most recent breakup—leaves involuntary dregs inside your mind, much like a snail trail. Whether you’re actively thinking about the information or not, it’s all sitting inside your skull, forming piles of puzzle pieces that don’t seem to fit together. It’s surprising how many ideas I can come with when I’m forced to stand in a locked white room with my own brain, staring at said puzzle pieces until I see a bigger picture.
Ever heard of Aqua Notes?
This product is ingenious. I can’t think of how many times I’ve gotten a great idea in the shower and have had to repeat it to myself over and over so I could remember it by the time I got out. We’ve all been there. But why do great ideas come in such a strange place? Because [usually] we’re alone. Just us and the ceramic. Just me and my brain.
Road trips are even better. Instead of twenty minutes alone with your thoughts, you have hours. Long, boring hours of dry southern Idaho countryside. After you’ve played the alphabet game and forty rounds of 20 Questions, it’s either white-room-brain-time or jumping onto the pavement whizzing by at eighty miles per hour.
I’ve “discovered” so many story ideas just by letting my thoughts drift until I reach one that’s especially unique or bizarre. It was during the long, twelve-hour trip from Moscow, ID to Salt Lake City that I came up with the idea for The Paper Magician: the idea of using man-made materials to cast spells. The idea of making the setting of the story an internal organ. The idea of giving a man a paper heart.
An idea is like good wine (or so I’ve heard, I’ve never actually had wine). The longer it ages, the better it tastes. And sometimes, when writers step away from the world and stare at the bottle long enough, they discover a blend of flavors that makes their writing excel.
Go ahead, try it. This drink’s on me.
*These are all over BYU campus.